Foundry (Not woodworking)

So for a non-woodworking project, I needed to melt copper in an effort to make bronze. I have a small electric foundry which I thought I could use.  It turns out, the capacity is too small and it can only hold about half of what I need.  So, in a very Morden/MacGuyver type of way, I decided to build a foundry.

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Small foundry at work.

First I needed a plan. I wasn’t planing on using this foundry often, so speed was more important than durability. I found Grant Thompson/King of Random’s plans for the mini foundry. In a later update he admits they are not the most durable thing, but he gives guidance on how to possibly extend their life.  I’ll put links to the videos down below. As I go through the build, I will note the changes I made.


Casting the Foundry

The first thing I had to do was make the foundry. Using a 5 gallon bucket, I mixed up a 50-50 mix of playground sand and Plaster of Paris. I used a 2.5 quart plastic bucket with the handle removed as my scoop.  I went with approximately 1.75 buckets of plaster and 1.75 buckets of sand.  The dry goods were then mixed very well by hand.  I then added 1.25 buckets of water.  This is all according to the instruction video.  Grant must be used to a drier climate than we have in Georgia. I ended up adding a little more sand and plaster to thicken the mix.
I lined a 10 quart galvanized steel bucket with coarse steel wool which had been unrolled. This will act as reinforcement and should extend the life of the foundry. Next the plaster mixture was poured over the wool.  Try to keep the wool to the side and bottom.  To form the hollow where the crucible will sit, insert the 2.5 quart plastic bucket in the center of the mixture. You will need to weigh it down with something.  I filled it with water and set a brick on top, but if you have something solid I think it will work better. You want the top of the small bucket to be even with the top of the plaster.
Let the plaster dry for about an hour to an hour an a half.  Then take a large pair of pliers and grasp the edge of the bucket in the center and try to ‘roll it up.’  The bucket should pop out and you should be left with a smooth void in the center.

Now we need to make a hole for air or torch, depending on what fuel source you use. Take a 1 3/8″ hole saw and drill a hole about 1/3rd of the way down the foundry. Angle the hole downward. You can see in this picture the hole with the torch (more on it later) inserted.IMG_1813

For the lid, Grant used a specific bucket.  I did not have that type of bucket, but I did have an extra 5 gallon bucket.  It turns out the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket is almost exactly the same size as the mouth of the foundry’s bucket. So I used that for the mold. It resulted in two issues which I will discuss in a bit.

The same 1 to 1 ratio of sand to plaster is used for the top. I just eyeballed it until I had 4-5″ of depth in the bucket-mold. Add water until the mix is a loose pancake batter consistency. Insert unrolled steel wool around the edges and make sure it gets fully covered in the mixture.  Try to minimize the steel wool in the center.  I just left it solid and drilled the center out with a 4″ hole saw later.  My recommendation is that you use something to mold the center open instead (like I did during the foundry molding).

Now we need handles.  After the mix has set just enough to hold them vertical, insert two 4″ U bolts that have a bar between them. Should look like this:

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Photo from http://homedepot.com

So, the issues. First the dry lid would not let go of the mold, so I had to cut the bucket up.  If you are going to try to use this method, you may wish to consider using some type of release agent. Secondly, the lid is so close to the size of the top of the foundry, the loops of the handles on the foundry interfere with it seating properly.  I can push it on without too much trouble, but I may end up removing the handle as a permanent fix.  The final issue goes back to the vent hole in the center. I had difficulties with drilling through it with a hole saw because of the thickness.  Hence my recommendation to use something to mold the opening into the casting.


The Torch

When it comes to fuel sources there are two choices.  One is propane, which I’ll go into detail below.  The other is charcoal. Depending on the heats you are trying to achieve, charcoal is a perfectly valid option.  If you use lump charcoal instead of briquettes, you can even reach over 2000 degrees. If you go this route, you’ll use a hair drier some piping to provide air through the hole in the side of the foundry.  I did not go this route, so you will have to watch Grant’s videos for those instructions.

I went with propane. This is the more expensive way to go, but I felt it was more suited to how I would use it.  Plus it would get to the temperatures I needed. The rough parts list:

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I started with the nozzle.  Take a hex head plug with a 1/4″ NPT male nipple on it and drill a 6 mm hole straight down through the center of the top.  This needs to be a very straight hole, so use a drill press if you have one.  Then tap threads into the hole using a 6 mm-1.00 tap. This will fit a .025″/6 mm MIG welder wire feed contact tip. Take a 1/4″ steel coupling and file four sides (at 90 degrees) flat. Screw the contact tip into the brass plug and the plug into the coupling. Use thread tape on all connections.
The next step involves a bit of variation from Grant’s video.  He uses a steel 1.5″ to 1″ reducer coupling. I could not find that, so I had to reduce in two steps.  Take the 1.5″ to 1.25″ reducer and file a flat spot on four sides, all at 90 degrees. Then drill a hole for the set screws.  Grant uses a different size for his set screws, but I used the 6 mm size so I only had to buy one tap. This means I got slightly larger cap screws.  Drill a 6 mm hole through each of the flat spots, tap the holes and insert the cap screws. These four screws are then used to hold the nozzle we build earlier straight and centered pointing out of the smaller end of the reducer.

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Not the straightest holes, but they work.

If you managed to find the 1.5″ to 1″ reducer, you would just screw the six inch long, 1″ diameter pipe into this. Since I did not find one, I had to go to a 1.25″ threaded insert, into my next reducer then into the six inch pipe.

Theoretically you can do this without a regulator. I think that is a bad idea and will put a lot of stress on your components. Go to a local propane or plumbing supplier (not a big box store) and buy a regulator. They can also make an 8′ hose for you which will run between the regulator and the 45 degree elbow with a 3/8″ flare to 1/4″ male pipe.  The 1/4″ end of the elbow will join one end of the 1/4″ NPT Female ball valve (Make sure the lever on the ball valve can be actuated without running into anything.  Ideally you want it to turn away from the torch body). The other end of the ball valve will use the 1/4″ x 1/4″ NPT male fitting to join the nozzle we built earlier.  Again, use thread tape on all connections.  You should now have a completed torch which will fit into the hole in the side of the foundry.

 

To control airflow, cut a Pac-Man shape out of a tuna can lid. This can be slid over the pipe where it screws into the nozzle.  Sliding it back and forth will adjust the amount of air the flame gets.

The completed foundry:


The Crucible

Buy one.  Seriously.  They are less than 20 bucks for decent sizes.  I bought a #3-4KG clay graphite crucible from amazon for $19.95, then found one cheaper later. That size fits rather nicely in this foundry by the way.

You will need to season your crucible. This is basically heating it with borax until the borax turns liquid, then coating the interior of the crucible with the liquid.  I did my test firing of the foundry at the same time I seasoned my crucible.


The Firing

I have to admit, the the first firing did not go so well. It took forever to get up to temp, and I’m not sure it ever really got there.  It ended up burning for two hours before the borax I was using to season the crucible started to turn liquid. I suspect this is because the plaster still had a bit of moisture to cook off combined with my inexperience at fuel/air ratios.

The next day I tried my first real smelting. I was trying to make leaded bronze from it’s component metals. The foundry came up to temp in about 20 minutes this time, melting the copper in the crucible and forming the bronze in under 30 minutes.

In all honesty, the first smelting was a failure for what I was trying to accomplish, but a success for having a working foundry. While the copper, tin, and other trace metals alloyed as expected, the lead proved immiscible in copper.  I’ve talked it over with some folks and have ideas of what to try on my next attempt.  In the mean time, here’s a video of the first pour.


Links/Sources

  1. The foundry – How To Make The Mini Metal Foundry by Grant Thompson, The King of Random
  2. Propane Conversion – Convert Your Backyard Foundry to Propane! by Grant Thompson, The King of Random
  3. Updates – Don’t Build a Metal Foundry Until you See This First by Grant Thompson, The King of Random

Seumas’ Elevation Gift (And many Ooops/Learning experinces)

One of the coolest things to get asked to do is elevation gifts. This is one I specifically asked to do. Seumas is one of my mentors in wood working, and I was excited to be able to help celebrate his knighting in this way.

Sir Seumas has a very early period and rustic persona. We jokingly call him Captain Caveman. I know people may scoff, but I don’t know very many people who are more dedicated to their persona than Seumas. He researches a time and place which is poorly documented and rarely studied.

I wanted his box to blend with his aesthetic. It would just look wrong for him to have a high gothic style 15th century coffrette.  I thought back to the earlier forms of boxes: dugout boxes.

In addition to all this, I wanted to avoid using power tools. While I did not have all the most appropriate hand tools nor did I have the time (and money) to acquire them, I thought this was a good compromise. I ended up having to break this once as you’ll see below.


Construction

First I started with a log.  Yup, a log.  I put a call out to my friends on Facebook asking if anyone had any oak firewood that was nice and dry.  Baron William Scrivener was nice enough to deliver three good oak logs to me at an event.

So, then I had to remove the bark.  Simple, but messy.

Now I needed to make a bottom.  This log had a nice ridge on one side that gave it a natural bottom.  So, I split off a small slice of wood to begin flattening.  Then I used a draw-knife and hand plane to finish the flattening process. This should have been started with an axe, but I couldn’t find mind.  So, improvised chisels to the rescue!

I needed to split off the ‘lid’ now.  It was pretty much the same process as splitting off the bottom, but it was a higher percentage of the log. both the top of the log and the bottom of the top were then flattened.

The next step is to “square up the ends.  I was trying to get rid of some checking that had happened naturally and get to more solid wood.  I probably should have gone deeper. (By the way, Seumas made the bow saw in the picture).

 

Without a fro, I was going to need to hollow this log with chisels.  No big deal I thought. I have really sharp chisels.  I have a bit and brace. I have the skills.  I’ve carved oak before.  It turns out I can be tremendously mistaken at times. I really think the center part of this log was partially petrified.

So thus I had to result to a power tool.  I used a power drill to set the depth and perimeter of the dugout.  Then I finished cleaning out the middle with said formerly sharp chisels. Here you can see part of the progress and the beginning of my rodent bedding business (the shavings on the floor).

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And now for my next problem.  I didn’t remove enough ‘bad material.  As the center was removed, the left and right walls started to crumble. They were just too dry and weakend by the checking. I wish there was some super cool period way to fix this, but I don’t know of it.  So, I resorted to SCIENCE!  To save the piece I ended up stabilizing the end by using West Systems Epoxy.


Carving

I wanted to keep it fairly simple. His chosen icon is a wheel, so I wanted to put it on top.  I carefully located the center of the top, drew in the design and prepared to start carving.(You can actually see that I have started setting the perimeter of the outer circle in this picture)

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What you can’t see is all that careful laying out of the exact center was in vein.  I missed, badly. I couldn’t exactly go back and shorten the box at this point. So, what to do.  I had always planned to do more carving than just the wheel. Seumas made this amazing shield years ago.  I drew some inspiration from it.

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Shield by Jason Currin, Photo Credit to Susan Baker Farmer.

I surrounded the wheel with the swirls to hide the off-center nature of the top. I also used the arc motif to highlight some natural features in the face of the box.

 

It’s at this point that the Great Table Saw Incident of 2017 happened (working on something else). For those who were wondering, I was in the wood shop the next day putting the first coat of linseed oil on this project one handed.

Thankfully I have an amazing squire, Baron Robert Throckmorton who came over the day after to help.  He mounted the hinges, finished applying the oil, and helped with some other things I needed to get done before Gulf Wars.

And here is the finished project:

Tribute Box

I thought long and hard trying to decide if writing this post was the correct thing to do. This box was made to pay tribute to someone who was dearly loved by all and sadly taken from us in 2016. His loss shook our entire Kingdom, and the tremors were felt throughout the Known World.

In his heart, Earl Richard was a mentor, a teacher, and a father to us all. He would always be the first to offer help and the last to accept it. I believe he would want this post written to help teach and inspire others.

I have piddled in woodworking most of my life.  In the past I never thought I was anything more than a Wal Mart level woodworker. Earl Richard is one of my inspirations. I saw the beautiful work he did in his camp furniture and his home and said, “I want to try that.”

Now I have people come to me to tell me how much they enjoy and are inspired by these posts. Thank you Richard for your inspiration, your words of support, and your love. I miss you my friend.


Since Richard was primarily known for his chip carving, I decided this box would feature that art form. It didn’t need to be big for it’s purpose, so I wanted it to be small and easy to handle.

For those that don’t know, Richard loved trees. He worked for the Georgia Forestry Service for as long as I knew him. His house was in a pecan orchard.  Pecan trees are the life blood of south Georgia.  As it happened, I had some pecan wood lying around, so this was my choice for wood.

Recently Earl Richard had adopted a crusader persona. Thus the design for the carving was inspired by the design of the churches and cathedrals. Admittedly probably from a much later period, but still I wanted something that evoked the awe of a Gothic cathedral.

I did my design in SketchUp.  It’s a free 3D drafting program. While intimidating to learn at first, it becomes intuitive very quickly.  I highly recommend it and that you scour YouTube for instructional videos. They will help explain things which initially make little to no sense. It was my feeling that this should be a challenging project, so I made the design extremely intricate.

I am not going to rehash the base construction method. I cut and planed the boards to length and thickness. Then I used dovetails (hand cut) to construct the box. I did the cuts and dry fit before I started carving, but I didn’t do final assembly until after. The bottom is rabbeted to accept the sides and is glued in place.

The second challenge I gave myself was to do a coffered top. The angles may seem simple at the start. Each ‘side’ of the top will need a 30 degree miter on the top and bottom.  The top plate will need a 30 degree angle on each side. While the corners start with 45 degree miters at the bottom, as the sides taper in, the angle changes along the length of the corner.

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I ended up creating a shooting board to try to get the angles correct.  I also built a template for the shooting board to hold the pieces at the proper 30 degree angle. The shooting board is nothing more than a board with another, smaller board attached to it leaving enough of the bottom board sticking out to fully support a hand plane. Then you can use your plane to  put an exact edge on the board.

I used the shooting plane to give me precise edges on the top plate.

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Then a dry fit of the complete top.  Trust me when I say that this challenge is not over.

Now it’s time to move to the carving.


 

I have recently adopted the idea of using spray adhesive to apply a print out of the carving to the wood. This helps me see the lines better and makes it easier to lay out patterns.

I ended up doing three separate patterns for this piece. The first is the pattern used on the angle sides of the top.

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The second is what I call the ‘arch pattern’ which was used on all four sides of the main carcass.

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The flat panel of the top receives the third ‘pattern’. It primarily focuses on Earl Richard’s device. His device will be flanked by the horses which were originally drawn by Master Johannes.

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The sides of the top were the first thing to get carved. I used a small chip carving knife for all the cuts.

Next were the sides of the box itself. The design was meant to evoke the feeling of the gothic cathedral arches and rose windows. In addition to the carving knife, I used a round gouge (Pfiel 8/5) to do the cross work at the bottom of the pieces. Some of the pictures feature a quarter for scale.

The top was done in a relief carving style.

Now for the construction.


The box went together as normal. The dovetails were glued together and clamped.  Once dry I marked the rabbet on the bottom. The rabbet was cut with a shoulder plane after being defined by a shoulder cut. Once assembled and dry I used a very sharp block plane to flush up all of the joints.

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The top was another story.  I am not sure if the pieces moved between the time I cut them and the time I assembled them, but the angles did not match up as well as I would have hoped. In the pictures you can see the gaps which appeared after I did the glue up.

I was faced with a dilemma. I did not want to redo the carving.  Breaking apart the box to attempt to reassemble would likely have destroyed the pieces. I had no choice but to move forward.

I have never had much luck with commercial wood fillers. They never look right.

Mixing wood glue and saw dust works okay for small problem areas (but the dust needs to be pristine so you’re not working dirt into the joint). Also if you are going to do this, once you get the defect filled with the mixture, rub it with more of the pristine saw dust.

What I chose to do instead was to install small patches.  I cut ‘slivers’ out of the extra material that came to a sharp point and matched the angles of the joint. I glued them in place and used blue tape to provide clamping pressure. Once dry, I paired them down to flush with a sharp block plane. Any remaining gaps were filled with wood glue and sawdust described above.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of this process.  I was really disgusted with the project and I was on the verge of starting over. I considered this a last ditch attempt. If there is one lesson to learn here, it’s to never give up.  Very few projects go smoothly from the start. There is such a sense of relief and accomplishment when you pull a project back from the bring of disaster.

I found a couple of more issues when I went to put the hardware on. I didn’t want to use a latch, because I didn’t want to ruin the carving. When I went to mount the hinges, the angle of the sides of the top caused the screws to protrude through the top. Shortening the screws was out of the question because they were so short to begin with. I ended up choosing to mount the upper portion of the hinge on the outside of the top. Instead of the glaringly modern screws, I drove nails through and cinched them down.

At one point I was convinced this was lost. But I ended up being very happy with the result. I finished the project with four coats of boiled linseed oil.

Christmas Gifts

So Christmas has come and gone now, but the break gave me time to do some projects. The three I’m featuring today ended up being Christmas gifts, so I figured I would just group them in one post.

Feast Box

At MGT I donated a gift certificate for a custom made box to a fund raising silent auction. The winner asked me to make a feast box for her to give her boyfriend as a Christmas Gift. It’s fairly standard dovetail construction made of poplar. The bottom is fully concealed in a dado in the bottom.  His badge carved on the top. I did add handles on the side to help with carrying the box.

 

Gewalthaufen Gift Exchange

Every year Gewalthaufen has a Dirty Santa gift exchange.  This year I did a very similar storage bench to the one I did last year. I chose chip carving instead of relief carving this time around.

I also tried something sort of new with the chip carving.  Instead of drawing the pattern directly on the wood, I used spray adhesive to glue a print out of the pattern on the wood.  Then I cut through it as I carved. (Pattern credit goes to https://mychipcarving.com/product/chip-carving-pattern-collection-vol-1/)

 

Chair Restoration

A friend had a small rocking chair which had belonged to her mother. It was in bad shape.  It was missing a stretcher and the front stretcher was broken.  The entire undercarriage was detached from the seat.  The seat had a crack in it which someone had tried to fix before.

I created a new stretcher and installed it.

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I repaired the front stretcher with glue and dowels to act as pins.

I installed a Dutchman to stabilize the crack in the seat.  If you are not familar, a dutchman is a bowtie shaped piece of wood which holds a crack together.  First you cut out the bowtie shape.  Use that to draw the shape on the piece to be stabilized.  Chisel out a socket to hold the bowtie and glue it in place.  Cut it close to flush and plane, scrape, and sand flush.

Then I cleaned the joints and reattached the undercarriage to the top.

As I was cleaning the piece, I realized one of the arms was very loose.  I pulled it off, put some 5 minute expoy on it, and put it back together.  A half hour in clamps (it was cold in the shop) and it was good as new.

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Magna Faire Regalia Prize (and Ooops!: Part Duex)

Their Majesties asked me to make a prize box for the Regalia Challenge held at Magna Faire. Since I didn’t know who was getting it, I needed to make it somewhat generic. I fell back to chip carving because I’ve not gotten a lot of practice with it recently. It was a fun project with a much bolder pattern than I have done in the past. As you’ll see below, no project is perfect and I had to make a few corrections.

The carcass of the box is pretty standard for my construction at this point.  It’s held together with dovetails.  The bottom 0.25″ of the sides are left full length and mitered to conceal the grove in which the bottom is held.

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The top was then laid out.  This was a series of overlapping circles. I removed the ovals to create a concave diamond pattern. I added a plunge cut star to add visual interest.

Now for the “Ooops!” section of this blog.  First, occasionally a knife it going to split or a some unseen treaterous wood grain is going to cause a piece to break out of the piece of the board left alone.  If you can find and save the piece, you can glue it back in.  Use blue tape to hold it in place while the glue sets. (Below you can see the tape residue where I’ve glued a chunk back in.  You can remove this with a card scrapper)

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The second oops on this project was caused by not paying attention when I got going.  The layout of this piece was going to be a ‘rug’ in the center of the top with 1.5″ margin of un-carved wood.   You can see the carving which extends past the border (highlighted in red below).

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If I continued the ‘column’ I started accidentally and mirrored it on the other side, the margin would be only 0.75″ on the left and right, while the top and bottom would have a 1.5″ margin. I had long lost the ‘chip’ before I realized the error, so gluing it back in was out of the question. If I added new ‘rows’ to the top and bottom, the margin would be 1″.

Since I had no choice, I added the columns and then considered the piece.  With the top being square, the rectangular ‘rug’ looked ill-proportioned. After completing the extra rows, I found the 0.25″ difference in margins much less jarring.

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In the picture above you can see the third Ooops!  I was not careful enough with the glue, and it caused light spots when the stain was added. I later used a chisel to remove some material and reapplied stain, but even in the finished product you can see the light spots.

There is one additional design feature on this box. The lid started as a 0.75″ thick board. Under normal circumstances, I would have resawn and planned down the board to approximately 0.375″. I have found that sometimes this can leave the board vulnerable to cupping.  In stead of thinning the whole board, I thinned only the perimeter, leaving the center at full thickness.

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You can also see that I chose to use four small hinges to share the load of the lid. I did not want the fasteners to punch through the top of the lid.

Random Projects

Hello All,

I’ve not been completely idle, but I did move and it took me a while to setup my wood shop again.  Here are some projects I’ve been working on lately.

First, I had to make a modification to Ulrich’s box.  A simple hasp works better for his needs than a lock.Below you can see before and after.

 

Secondly, I needed to modify a box I made for Thomas Paumer. When I did it back in April, he was not a laurel, but that changed in August.  Luckily I had left enough room to squeeze the wreath in on the top.

 

Thirdly, the Kingdom asked me to make some boxes for the various Crowns which were in less than ideal storage. So far I’ve completed three of the five they asked me to do. The other set is for some crowns which are not being used this reign, so the rush is not as big of a deal.
This was a new construction method for me.  I wanted them strong but light.  They needed to put up with the rigors of being passed from owner to owner. Stability was a great concern. They also needed to be convenient, light, and functional that people wouldn’t be tempted to discontinue using them during their reign. It was a case where function was needed over form.

 

Fourthly, I was commissioned to create a set of Thrones for the Barony of Glaedenfeld. Their existing set had had a malfunction and they needed a set quickly.

I’ve got more stuff to do, but I wanted to give a quick update.

Serafina’s Elevation Gift

I had always told Serafina I would make her a box for her elevation. It gave me no small joy to have that opportunity recently. Her preference was for a box of cherry wood with chip carving.

So, the carcass of the box was pretty standard. I did use some of the techniques from Ulrich’s coffret to change it up a bit. I used the miter/dovetail combination again but put the miter on the bottom instead of the top. This allowed me to inset the bottom into a grove rather than flush mounting it. I prefer that aesthetic and I feel it will be less prone to issues over time.

 

Chip carving is a method where you remove materials in chips by a series of precise cuts. Ideally, when you get done removing a chip, you should be able to just glue it back into place. The pattern is formed by the removed material and the shadow lines they create. This differs in relief carving where you remove waste and leave the pattern proud.

Serafina had really liked the patterns I used on an earlier project. So, in many ways this is return to my beginnings. I did snazzy up the corner details this time though. The back and sides are the same pattern with a slight difference in the corners. The front needed to be a bit different. I did the center pattern twice to leave room for the hasp in the middle and omitted the outer ring to make it seem less crowded.

I wanted the top to be something special. I knew she wanted her device and the laurel wreath on top, but that seemed too plain. Serafina’s first big A&S project was to research the differences in the various types of wire weaving and develop her own method to do Anglo-Saxon Interweave. This is a type of wire weaving done from a spool of wire of any length and generates a weave with ‘U’ shapes as opposed to the ‘e’ shapes found in Baltic wire weaving.

I asked her to teach me interweave, bought some silver, and proceeded to try my hand at it. I really enjoyed doing it, which doesn’t surprise me too much. I had enjoyed doing the Baltic style before. I managed to turn 2 ounces of silver wire into 6 feet of silver chain.

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So, I carved Serafina’s device and the laurel wreath into the top of the box. Then I carved a channel around the border to inlay the chain. I’d like to say I used some super spiffy period technique to set the chain into the channel, but I didn’t. I ended up having to use epoxy. I didn’t want this to move or get damaged in the trials and tribulations of SCA life.

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I did a couple of new things to the inside.  I created a lift out tray, which I had done for Baron Thomas’s box. I also put a mirror which folds down and acts as a lid stand.  I left the top large than the carcass so that the lid cannot fall all the way open. The finish is four coats of tung oil.  Congratulations Maestra Serafina.

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